We were born into them. They have become both a marker of our identities & cultures and symbols of home. For some, they became gifts celebrating a coming of age, and for others they evoke memories of self-revelation and much more. -About The HOOPS Portrait Project

When I was in middle school, the best advice I received came from my homie’s mama. It was picture day, meaning many of us awkward seventh graders were dressed up and trying real hard to look as cute and “grown” as possible. Daisy’s mama, who I often carpooled with, complimented my outfit, but gasped when she noticed I did not have any earrings on. “Earrings make an outfit. Never leave the house without a pair on!”

It’s been more than a decade since that crucial moment, but even now, if I am going on a date, to the coffee shop, or even making a quick run to Target, I must leave the crib with a pair of earrings on. It does not matter if I am wearing a bonnet and jogging pants; My ears just cannot be naked! And, just like the Black women before me, I grew a special affinity for hoops. BIG ASS HOOPS, to be precise.

While seventh-grade me was too young to fully understand all the responsibility and legacy that came with wearing hoops, grown woman me is infatuated with their power. Hoops are bad-ass. They are symbols of empowerment, of representation, of evolution, of femininity and royalty. Wearing the biggest pair I can makes me feel like I can do and BE anything. For this reason, I can confidently say that the HOOPS Portrait Project by Nicole Acosta is one of my favorite exhibitions I have ever attended. Honestly, it is perhaps one of the most magical, divine experiences I have had the honor of witnessing. And the fact it was housed in my hometown of Milwaukee? Blessings!!!!

The HOOPS Portrait Project began originally as a campaign for the Milwaukee-based Art Collective LUNA (Latinas Unidas en las Artes). The collective created artworks centering their own experiences with hoops. As a LUNA member, Nicole Acosta held a photo session in her apartment, asking the artists to wear their hoops and answer the question “What do hoop earrings mean to you?” According to Acosta, this moment helped her realize how “the act of adorning one’s ears with hoops is a personal choice, a statement- deeply rooted in liberation and visibility.” 

These original campaign photos were projected on a wall inside the gallery space. It was incredibly beautiful, watching the images change and highlight these brilliant artists with their statement pieces. I also loved seeing familiar faces of friends and folks I admire. The LUNA photos were the only ones projected, which felt like such a special way to highlight those who were first captured for this expansive project: Katie, Gabriela, Yessica, Cecilia, Irma, Francheska, Mariah, Debbie, and Rozalia.

Listening to Nicole talk about this work and this series, it is obvious she never intended for it to grow beyond her apartment. However, given the impact that hoops has on the global majority, on our cultures and stories, it is almost more wild to think something this extravagant could be contained to four walls.

  Following the LUNA campaign launch, the HOOPS Portrait Project exploded! Nicole was able to capture more and more people, especially after the project gained internet traction.  Initially, once Nicole’s project gained popularity, she began working with more Milwaukeeans, doing a pop-up/open call for others to come and get their pictures taken while rocking their hoops. The project continued to bloom, giving Acosta the opportunity to travel outside the state of Wisconsin completely. In total, Acosta was able to document individuals from Brooklyn, New York, Los Angeles, California, and Chicago, Illinois. It is absolutely outstanding and mind-blowing to see how one single accessory could have such an influence on folks of various races, genders, cultures, and backgrounds. Despite living in different states and holding their own lived experiences, we all had a story to tell regarding hoops and their magnitude.

  Below are a few of the anecdotes posted alongside the masterpieces:

The hoop represents equality, connectedness, family ties, and for most the never-ending circle of life. Indigenous people use the shape of the hoop/circle as a symbol for our powwows, ceremonies, traditional housing, cycle of the seasons, and the four directions. The hoop earrings signify all those aspects and I feel beautifully connected when I wear my quilled hoop earrings. -Desiree from Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wearing hoop earrings as an adult represents a reclaiming of power, story, and the self. They are my hype girls, I feel ready with my girls. I have so many poems I’ve written about my experience with hoops. They carry so much collective as well as individual history. -Nancy from Chicago, Illinois
Make it stand outI choose to cover because I’m Muslim. No one sees my hoops, but I know they are there. I wear earrings every day. But when I wear my hoops, I feel feminine and fierce. The hoops make me feel Mexican. In my head I’m that calendar girl holding the Mexican flag–boys aren’t the only ones with hoop dreams. I’m proud to be a Muslim, proud to be a woman and proud to be Mexican. -Maria from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Aside from being showcased at the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network (MARN) until April 3rd, 2023, HOOPS is taking on another life as a stage play! The production, which has its world premiere on  March 10th, 2023, is adapted by Eliana Pipes with original music by B~Free. Directed by Patrice Amon, this production, in addition to the solo exhibition, breathes such radiant life into what began as a collective campaign. I am so proud to be from Milwaukee, to be a Black girl rocking hoops, and much of that pride is inspired by fellow creatives like Nicole Acosta.

HOOPS truly is a unique, brilliant exhibit: a staple of power, fashion, culture, and legacy. This is not to be missed!! Put on your cutest pair and make your way to MARN asap! 

Read the full article by Michael Murry here.